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Brown Deer board members face challenge

Incumbents try to hold off second-try school candidate

March 11, 2014

Brown Deer — Incumbent School Board President Gary Williams and incumbent member Dennis Griffin will attempt to defend their seats against William Weisgerber, who is running for the second time in as many years.

Williams, 63, is a 15-year village resident and is finishing his second term on the School Board. His two children have graduated from the district and are now in college. Williams has a master's in political science and PhD in urban social institutions from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he is an associate professor and heads the Institute for Intercultural Research.

Griffin, 58, is a 30-year resident and is finishing his third term on the School Board. His four children all attended and graduated from the Brown Deer school system. Griffin has a bachelor's degree in natural resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a systems administrator at the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp.

Weisgerber, 42, is a nine-year resident with two daughters in the elementary school. He ran unsuccessfully last year in a four-way contest, taking third to Lisa Zielinski and Leslie Galloway Sherard. Weisgerber has a bachelor's degree in finance from Iowa State University and works as a practice management consultant for Northwestern Mutual.

Motivations

Weisgerber emphasized that he is the only candidate with children in the district, is plugged in with the elementary school PTO, and is a "big believer in term limits."

"If you have been on the board or involved with an organization for quite a few years, you tend to get stale, and continue on with the status quo," Weisgerber said. "It's good to shake things up every once in a while."

Both Griffin and Williams said they have unfinished business on the School Board.

Griffin said the district has done a number of things in his time to increase student achievement, but isn't finished, and still has work to do on employee contracts in light of the new powers granted by Act 10.

"We have a pivotal couple of years coming up," Griffin said.

Williams said that the board ihad identified major infrastructure and student achievement issues, and the referendum projects have taken care of one of those.

"Now that the brick-and-mortar part is done, now we can focus, zero in on, the academic achievement of all our students," Williams said.

Budgeting and merit pay

When it comes to dealing with annual budget, Griffin said the board's approach has been to prioritize for what students need most, and "have the right positions for what students need."

On the idea of teacher merit pay, Griffin said that he hasn't seen any evidence that such a system works, or the funding in the district budget to support such a system. He said the plan should be to work with teachers to find out what drives them and use that as a starting point.

In light of changing demographics in Brown Deer, Williams said that for the district budget to improve in the long term, the state will have to rethink its current revenue limits and the funding formula for schools.

"We need a funding formula that is fair to districts like ours," Williams said.

On the concept of teacher compensation, Williams said he supports a system that combines a comprehensive student portfolio review, peer observation and feedback, self correction, and parent and student feedback — what he calls a "360 approach." He also said he would like to see the district salary range increased as a whole.

Weisgerber said the current board is doing a good job of managing expenses and that he would continue with their approach. While Weisgerber does support the concept of being "paid to perform," he said he hasn't yet seen an effective system on which to model a Brown Deer version.

"There's good and bad incentives to merit pay," Weisgerber said. "You just have to find the right incentives."

Parents and achievement

Williams said that one focus of his will be to continue working to "narrow and eventually close" the achievement gap among students and work to increase parental involvement. He said the two concepts are intertwined and that the community as a whole, and especially faith-based organizations, need to be contacted and encouraged participate.

"I don't know if it's that we don't invite (faith-based organizations) enough to the table to help with these initiatives, or what. I'm not sure," Williams said. "But they've got to be there."

Weisgerber said the district, and parents, need to instill in every student an expectation of attending college — be it technical or four-year.

"We need to build some more of that throughout the school, all the way from the elementary on up, so that it's inherently built into the fabric of the school district," Weisgerber said.

Griffin said the district has focused on data-driven decision making when it comes to increasing student achievement and closing the gap, though "there isn't one thing, that silver bullet out there — it's a number of strategies."

He said the district needs to communicate and have more events to increase parental involvement, as well as cultivate a welcoming atmosphere where parents feel comfortable approaching teachers and administrators.

MEET THE CANDIDATES

Two community groups will be hosting candidate forums before the election.

Brown Deer Citizens for Responsible Government candidate forums, March 15 at Brown Deer High School:

School Board: 9-10:30 a.m.

Village Board: 10:30-noon

Interested parties may send candidate questions to bdcrg@yahoo.com

GFWC Brown Deer Junior Woman's Club candidates forum, March 20 at the Brown Deer Community Center, 4355 W. Bradley Road:

School Board and Village Board forum will be moderated by the League of Women Voters. The forum runs from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

More information available at browndeerjuniorwomansclub.com.

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